A MAN thought he was 'going to die' after being attacked by cows on a dog walk. 

Patrick Atherton and his 13-year-old border collie, called Lad, were walking at Birdcage Farm in Ottery St Mary, Devon, on June 12 2022. 

The retired chartered surveyor was a regular user of the footpath, and said it was 'ironic' that Lad happened to be on his lead that day. 

"I’ve been a trainer of Border Collies for many years," the 70-year-old said. 

“It was ironic that for the first time I had kept Lad on his lead as I had noticed two young calves in the field and thought if he was walking by my side they wouldn’t really notice.

“Unfortunately, one black cow did and it charged at us, knocking me down by the hedge that bordered the path. I tried to stand up and let Lad off his lead but they kept on knocking me over.

“There was about seven cows involved, but it was the very aggressive black cow that was trying to kill my dog. I thought we were going to die.

“I had been powerless to do anything. We were both surrounded by cattle. I could hear Lad shrieking in pain as he was repeatedly kicked and stamped on.

“He was never the same dog after what happened and he sadly passed away in September this year.

“I just want to make other people aware of the risks when out enjoying popular footpaths such as this one.”

As the incident was taking place, Mr Atherton said he heard a call - which he presumed was the farmer - and the cattle moved away. 

He escaped with cuts and bruises, but Lad was badly injured and had to take medication for the remainder of his life. 

The farmer responsible for the cows has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The investigation found that cattle with young calves, which are known to be protective and unpredictable, were being kept in a field with a public right of way across it. The cows with young calves can pose a risk to walkers, especially those with dogs, said HSE. 

John Hallett of Birdcage Farm, Ottery St Mary, Devon pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500 at Exeter Magistrates’ Court.

“It is fortunate that the injuries sustained by Mr Atherton weren’t life threatening, however given the nature of the attack the end result could have been far worse," said HSE inspector, Simon Jones. 

“Public knowledge – and concern – is increasing about how dangerous cattle can be. On this occasion Mr Atherton took the right precautions and HSE has taken action against the farmer in question.

“Cattle are extremely protective of their calves and even calm cattle can become aggressive if they think the calves may, in any way, be threatened, even by members of the public walking past.

“Farmers should not place cattle with calves in fields where members of the public have a legal right to walk.

“Had John Hallett followed this simple rule, then this incident could have been prevented.”

HSE has issued some guidance for farmers following the incident: 

  • Avoid putting cattle, especially cows with calves, in fields with public access.
  • Do all you can to keep animals and people separated, including erecting fencing (permanent or temporary) e.g. electric fencing.
  • Assess the temperament of any cattle before putting them into a field with public access.
  • Consider culling any animal that shows signs of aggression.
  • Any animal that has shown any sign of aggression must not be kept in a field with public access.
  • Clearly sign post all public access routes across the farm. Display signage at all entrances to the field stating what is in the field (cows with calves / bulls).